While some people view hugs as a way to “spread the love,” in the workplace, they can be a way to spread the liability. So here are some things that lawyers who defend sexual harassment claims would like you to know about hugging in the workplace.
- All hugs are not created equal. They differ in terms of duration, force, hand placement, and extent of body contact. If you must hug, consider a side hug, where your physical contact is limited to an arm around the person’s upper back and shoulders.
- Not everyone likes to be touched.
- Some people who like to be touched don’t like to be touched by their boss or co-workers.
- Understand the subtle and not-so-subtle cues that someone may not want a hug. These include:
- They make a point of having a pile of folders in their arms whenever they encounter you.
- They not only don’t hug you back, but look panic stricken when you approach.
- When you wrap them in a comforting embrace they become rigid, sob uncontrollably, or attempt to escape.
- They scream: “Get your dirty paws off me!”
- Make sure it’s consensual. Implied consent – they’ve hugged you before or they’re standing there with their arms open – is probably fine. Oral consent – they’ve said they’d like a hug – is better. Written, notarized consent is the gold standard.
- If in doubt, keep your hands to yourself.
Remember, under California law, employers with 50 or more employees must train their California supervisors on sexual harassment every 2 years. Is your company current?